As technology has developed and people have become more connected, social media has become  the main outlet for everyone looking to communicate on a large scale. As this has taken place, the world of sports has found itself on the path of a social revolution. In terms of the tools that social media has supplied to people and entities,  sports leagues at varying levels have done a great job of taking advantage of this new form of mass connection and communication. But of course, with any advancement comes setbacks.

Sports fans are oftentimes an opinionated group of people, especially when it concerns the performances of teams and individual players. Before social media, it was extremely difficult, if not impossible, to articulate these opinions directly to athletes. Now that fans have access to social media, they can directly communicate with any athlete they please, even if it’s more of a one-way conversation. Whether they have nice things to say or not, these athletes are exposed to the actual thoughts of fans like they have never been before and it’s not always a positive experience.

Two incidents that have occurred recently prove that sometimes people can get out of hand with their complaints towards professional athletes—especially professional athletes who have not performed up to the standard that some fans expect. The Chicago Bears and Philadelphia Eagles met in a playoff game on Jan. 6. At the end of the game, the Bears found themselves losing 15 to 16. Cody Parkey, the Bears’ kicker, ran out onto the field to kick what could have been the game-winning play. With pressure unlike most have experienced, Parkey kicked the ball and hit the left post officially missing the all-important kick.

According to an article from Business Insider, Parkey stated after the game, “I feel terrible. I let the team down. That’s on me. I have to own it. I have to be a man. Unfortunately, that’s the way it went today.”

A similar situation was presented on Jan. 2 in the 2019 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Hockey Championships. In a quarterfinal match between Finland and Canada, Maxime Comtois, Canada’s team captain, found himself with a penalty shot and subsequently an opportunity to win the game in sudden death overtime. After missing the easy goal that could have been the game winner, Finland scored shortly after, which won them the game and knocked Canada out of a tournament the country had been looking forward to all season. Following both of these shortcomings from Parkey and Comtois on the playing surface, fans were quick to unleash their deepest frustrations with the two individuals, which is where the problem lies.

Fans sent insults, threats, death threats and hopes of horrible things happening to both Parkey and Comtois. In Parkey’s case, things got so bad that even players of the Eagles, the opposing team, protected him.

Jake Elliott, kicker for the Eagles, was aware of the pressure Parkey was feeling and stated on Twitter, “This is a stand up guy that a lot of young players can look up to. This is how you handle adversity like a pro. Cody is a heck of a kicker and will be for a long time. No reason to be taking the heat he is especially when that ball was tipped.”

In both situations the fans were completely out of line. For Comtois, racism became evident in the comments directed at him due to his French-Canadian heritage. It was obvious that there was a sense of anti-francophone sentiments being thrown at the young Team Canada captain which only made the whole experience even worse.

Fans have a right to voice their opinions on teams and players. Nobody can take that away from them. Part of the excitement of being a sports fan is being opinionated and supporting your favorite teams and players. I am a firm believer that it is okay to be critical of a team or player’s performance. However, when being critical, one needs to keep hateful emotions out of it. In the end, it’s a game and these players are the best in the world at what they do, but they’re also human. Just like everyone else, they make mistakes and they have bad days.

When athletes go on social media, they need to remember that they are public figures in a space that is open in terms of communication. There are unpleasant people in the world and unfortunately, those unpleasant people have access to social media just like everyone else. It should be expected that public figures are going to receive some less than encouraging comments on a public platform if they’ve failed in some way.

This in no way excuses the horrible comments that were directed at Cody Parkey and Maxime Comtois. They didn’t deserve to be treated like that by their so-called “fans.” No real supporter of any sport, athlete or team would ever behave that way toward an athlete who is working hard to make those supporters proud.

Fans need to understand that although the game means a lot, that’s just what it is: a game. Although frustration is valid in a losing situation, there is no need for threats, racism and general awfulness to be directed at these people who have dedicated their lives to their craft. Social media has changed the way people communicate with each other forever. With this change, some are using it to be hurtful, threatening and negatively opinionated. These two incidents from the world of sports simply shed light on one of the biggest issues of social media and how it has altered the way people associate with each other.